Dear Rosie and Sherry,

I was dating Beth pretty seriously for a while and we had even been talking about the possibility of a future together. In fact, I started thinking about how I would propose to her and had confided in the good friend who set us up about my plans. Our friend was excited for us – Beth had even told her that she felt we were moving toward an engagement. I was shocked when a few days later, Beth told me that she wanted to break up. I don't know why – she didn't give me a reason.

I didn't feel rejected, more like I lost a family member. I’ve been unable to get Beth out of my mind. It's been over a month and now that people know I'm "available" I've had a number of suggestions. I even went out a couple of times, hoping that I could focus on meeting someone new and forget about Beth, but I still haven't forgotten her and how I felt about her.

I’ve considered asking Beth if she'd take me back but I feel like that is over the top. It's also not my call whether or not we try again, it's up to her. I'd like your advice about what to do. Should I hope for her to decide to get back together, should I try to get her back, or should I ignore it all together and hope it all goes away?

Allen

Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

Rosie and Sherry's Answer:

Dear Allen,

Thank you for writing to us. We can see that you're feeling a deep sense of loss from this break up. Feeling as if you've lost a member of your family can happen when you have a deep emotional connection to another person. It's taking time for you to process this devastating experience, and this is not unusual. The process of mourning and healing from the end of a relationship with someone you wanted to marry is different for everyone, but it certainly can take more than a month.

You may have heard that there are five elements in the mourning process – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It's normal for someone experiencing a breakup such as yours to cycle through all or some of these. They don't occur in any particular order, and you can experience some of them simultaneously, and go back and forth between them. One of the phases you're going through now is called bargaining – thinking about if and how you might be able to convince Beth to try again.

At the same time, you're trying to move past the break-up and have even gone out a few times. This shows that you're trying to accept that your relationship is really over. You hope that dating new women will help you get your mind off of "the one that got away". However, you're still struggling, and that's why it's a good idea to wait a little longer to date. If you're still deep in mourning for the woman you "lost", she may be figuratively accompanying you on your dates, leading you to imagine what it would be like to be out with her and comparing your date to her.

In spite of your genuine desire to move on, your dating won't be productive. Your date won't be able to compete with the "ghost" and you won't be able to be "present" enough to get to know her and start making a connection.

There will be a point, which could be a few weeks from now or longer, where you'll be able to focus on dating and finding the right person. You may sometimes think about the woman you now miss, but that will happen less and less and shouldn't interfere with your efforts to connect to someone. To get to that point, it's important to let the mourning process run its course. The following suggestions can help you do that.

Instead of ignoring your feelings and hoping they go away, or feeling guilty that you haven't yet been able to move on, we suggest that you acknowledge the feelings when you experience them, but not dwell on them. You'll be able to do this if you maintain your routine of work, school, continue with your interests or hobbies, and spend time with friends and family.

If you don't already have a regular physical activity, we encourage you to exercise or play sports several times a week. The endorphins your body releases during exercise will help improve your mood. You still may have some extra time that you can fill by participating in a chesed project or developing a new interest or hobby. When your days are well-balanced and productive, time will work its magic. Much of the processing you need to go through will take place subconsciously. You will slowly feel better and more ready to move forward.

Moving forward means letting go of the hope that Beth will change her mind and want to start seeing you again. It's easier to get stuck wondering if there's a chance you can get back together when you don't know the reason for the break-up. You could be thinking that perhaps she wasn't ready for marriage, and now realizes she is, or that she misinterpreted something that can be cleared up with some discussion. However, it's not worthwhile to put your life on hold and hope she’ll decide that she made a mistake and would like to try the relationship again. You don't know the reason for the break-up; it could have been that even though you were convinced she was The One, she didn't feel the same about you. You need to move from bargaining to acceptance that this relationship wasn't meant to be.

Sometimes, your ability to accept the situation can be slowed down because you keep wondering, “What if she really has changed her mind?" If you can't let go of this thought, then call the person who set you up and ask if Beth is willing to consider trying again. (She should only say yes if she's worked through the reason she broke up and it is no longer an issue.) If she says no, you have your answer. You'll no longer have to deal with the nagging thought, "What would have happened if I had tried?" It may still take time to accept that it's over, but that will be because you're still hurting, not because you have false hope.

Our final suggestion can help you put what has happened in perspective. You can look at the connection you developed and the emotions you experienced as a growth experience and a way to better understand yourself. How did you grow? You were able to feel connected to someone, wanted to give to her, were ready to make a commitment – none of this may have happened to you before. You learned that someone was able to see many of your positive traits and feel a connection to you. You know what's it's like to be happy in a relationship. You can even be grateful for being able to have this experience because even though you're hurting right now, it means that you have the ability to build a connection and develop feelings, and with God's help you'll do so in the future, with someone who feels that same way about you as you do about her.

We hope that you continue to heal and wish you a bright future,

Sherry and Rosie